Things not to say to someone with insomnia

Insomnia is really, really rubbish. A ruiner of nights and days in equal measure, a chronic bout can render everything both lifeless and anxiety inducing at the same time, while the frustration of lying in bed exhausted but awake time and again can be incalculable. Here are a few things not to say to sufferers about their sleepless nights.

1. ‘Stop drinking coffee’
As addictions go, caffeine is one of the better ones. Relatively healthy and conveniently legal, to many insomniacs, coffee is less of an aid to concentration and more of a daily necessity, as you just don’t function on an hour’s sleep without a little help. In the long run, you may need to remove the crutch to walk properly, but right now, you’d just fall over. So, unless they’re downing double-shots at 10pm, it’s best to leave this well-intentioned suggestion at the door.

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2. ‘Try listening to something’
Everyone has an occasional night of tossing and turning and, for many people, listening to music provides that little extra lilt that sends them drifting off to dreamland. We will definitely have tried it, and it was probably like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

The same goes for hot water bottles, clean sheets, and warm glasses of milk.

3. ‘Just relax’
For anyone who has known the restless cycle of not sleeping, becoming frustrated at not sleeping, and then not sleeping some more, this suggestion is so futile, it’s a little bit funny. It’s like telling a sportsman to ‘just play well’ or a schoolchild to ‘just study better’.

Read more: Five expert ways how to calm the mind

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4. ‘You look tired’
We can’t fault this for accuracy, but we almost certainly didn’t ask. We have the mirror to remind us we look like an extra from The Walking Dead. We don’t need it from you too.

5. ‘Try sleeping pills’
There’s a broad sleeping pill spectrum – from over-the-counter snoozers to prescription sledgehammers that could knock out a rhinoceros – and long-term strugglers will surely have considered them already. If you’re a medical professional or fellow insomniac, you get a pass. Otherwise, the person you’re talking to probably knows more about sleeping pills than you do.

Tired Spongebob Squarepants GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

6. ‘If you go to sleep now, you can still get X hours’
There is a countdown clock in the mind of every insomniac, slowly striking off the hours of the night and the prospects of the following day – reminding us just makes the ticking more deafening. We are already obsessing over this. Five hours is workable; four will avoid the shakes; fewer than three means full siege mentality, and collapse when the clock hits five.

Read more: How to repair hormone imbalances that ruin a good night’s sleep

7. ‘Make up for it at the weekend’
Everybody does this a bit – offsetting late nights with weekend lie-ins – but two days can’t counter five, and it goes against conventional wisdom on how to handle insomnia. In theory, keeping a consistent sleep routine is your best shot at a cure, and sleeping ’til three in the afternoon ruins the rest of your lifestyle too.

Spongebob Squarepants Nickelodeon GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

You have zero chance of going to sleep at midnight if that’s when you’re eating dinner.

8. ‘I struggle to sleep sometimes’
It’s not a competition, it really isn’t, but having the odd bad night does not mean you’re able to relate. Genuine sleepless nights are a thing, and the strange cycle of exhaustion, surrealism and freneticism they engender is completely incomparable.

Read more: How to sleep if you share a bed with someone who struggles to drift off

9. ‘It’s really bad for you’
Yeah, it is. We know.

Do you struggle with insomnia? Have you found anything that works? What would you like someone to say to you?

– With PA

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Written by Luke Rix-Standing